Santa Clara County’s Reentry Resource Center is hosting its first Rise Up and Run Virtual 5K to provide clothes to formerly incarcerated individuals.

“Many of these men and women have no clean clothes in which to begin their reentry journey,” the county’s Chief Operating Officer Miguel Márquez said.

He noted that after months or years of incarceration, individuals reenter society without housing, food, an ID or a job. Many also have no choice but to leave jail or prison wearing the same unlaundered clothes they were arrested in.

“Giving a new shirt or a pair of pants to someone newly released from incarceration goes beyond clothing them. It’s a gesture that carries a clear message: you matter, we believe in you, and we support your efforts to change and heal,” Márquez said.

“The more we decrease the stigma associated with a criminal record, the more opportunities we can provide to individuals working toward better lives for themselves and their families”

Supervisor Susan Ellenberg

The Reentry Resource Center, which opened in 2012, helps formerly incarcerated individuals get those services and reintegrate back into the community.

Axel Fernandez, a Reentry Resource client, spent 16 months in jail and during that time lost his family, job and home. Upon his release in September 2020, Fernandez said he wore the same dirty t-shirt he was arrested in. He was only able to get new clothes from a gift card he received from the center.

“I felt like all of the doors opened for me. Instead of this narrow path, I have this big wide path,” Fernandez said about the Reentry Resource Program.

Clean clothing is essential to apply for various services from government agencies and community organizations, Board of Supervisors President Cindy Chavez said.

“It is a critical component for self-esteem, physical health and hope” Chavez said. “It represents a symbol of the fresh start that clients embark on when they come to the Reentry Resource Center.”

Breaking the cycle of incarceration

But new clothes are not the only change of the Rise Up and Run 5K seeks to make, Reentry Resource Center Director Javier Aguirre said.

“(It is) a change in how we as a society view and treat justice-involved individuals,” Aguirre said. “With basic resources and a community that supports their efforts to change their lives, we can start breaking the cycle of incarceration.”

People reentering the community face a plethora of barriers when seeking housing, education or employment, making it very difficult to resume day-to-day life. Some of those barriers include stigmas and stereotypes associated with formerly incarcerated individuals.

“The more we decrease the stigma associated with a criminal record, the more opportunities we can provide to individuals working toward better lives for themselves and their families,” Supervisor Susan Ellenberg said.

Already, employees from more than a dozen county departments, residents and community organizations have signed up for the virtual 5K.

The reentry event also garnered significant financial support from sponsors like the Aider and Abettor Podcast, Bible Way Christian Center, youth organization FIRST 5 Santa Clara County and more than 50 attorneys with the county’s Independent Defense Council.

The virtual 5K will began Oct. 24 and runs until Nov. 7. Those interested can sign up as an individual, in teams or sponsor a race registration for an individual or family.

Participants will receive a race t-shirt, medal and training tips. The walk can be timed using a smart phone application to upload results into the race website.

Those who do not want to participate in the 5K can also donate clothes or money to the Reentry Resource Center by going online or calling 408-535-4277.